Archive for the ‘Family and Friends’ Category

For our 5th anniversary we decided to take a coastal drive from Los Angeles to just past San Francisco. This took us back to some of the same places we went to for our wedding and honeymoon and allowed us to explore them better. For our wedding trip we had rented a Volvo convertible for the drive up the coast. We loved it!

Loving the Volvo C70 T5 on California Highway 1 in Big Sur

That inspired us to look for a hardtop convertible a couple years later when it was time to replace Jenny’s car. We were thinking of getting a Volvo since we had loved it so much. Our kids talked us in to checking out the BMW’s too. There was no comparison. The BMW’s finishes inside and the way it handled were both in a different class. So we got the BMW. And we loved that car even more than the Volvo.

With that car came a plan to do a coastal drive similar to our wedding/honeymoon. We had done several coastal trips between San Diego and Los Angeles and a little further up the coast, but in 2017 it was time to do it or give up on our plan. We were not going to keep the car forever. In fact we sold it recently, about 18 months after this trip.

BMW just before we sold it

So at the beginning of January 2017 I came up with a plan for a coastal road trip from Los Angeles to the northern border of California – Planning a California Coastal Road Trip Los Angles to Crescent City via Big Sur. That turned out to be too ambitious. Although part of the plan was to drive the coast, we didn’t want to drive for hours every day. Between January and June we discussed the plan, revised it and in June 2017 I finalized the plan for the trip – Updated Planning for a California Coastal Road Trip (2017 Revised Big Sur Plan).

We spent the night before the trip with family just north of Los Angeles. This would be the perfect place to start the trip as we wanted the first day our trip spent visiting places from Jenny’s memories of growing up in San Fernando Valley. We started with the two houses she lived in as a kid. They were close to each other, the first in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Canoga Park and the second in the Woodland Hills neighborhood. I love visiting places from my past because they bring up great memories. The same happened for Jenny, from her Mom’s whistle to call her in to dinner, to friends she grew up with. Then we took the route she frequently took in the summer to the beaches nearby. The drive down Topanga Canyon Road to Highway 1 at Topanga Beach had it’s own set of memories. We did not have time to visit all the beaches Jenny used to visit, but she would share some of the memories she had of these places as we drove by Malibu, Point Dume State Beach and the cove around the corner, Zuma Beach, and El Matador State Beach. We did stop at one of her favorites, Leo Carrillo Beach. We checked out the nearby campgrounds for a future trip, and then hung out on the beach for a while.

Walking on the hill above a Leo Carrillo beach cove

Leo Carrillo Beach rocky cove

Seals sunning on an outcrop of rocks

Seals on a rock outcrop

Jenny excited to explore the cave at Leo Carrillo beach

Jenny and Eric Rial in Leo Carrillo Beach Cave

After Leo Carrillo Beach we got serious about the driving part of a road trip. The weather was perfect and the coast beautiful. The traffic on Saturday, 1 July took a turn for the worst before Santa Barbara. We took an ill advised (I think) detour up into the foothills based on advice from Google maps. By the time we got back to the coast and past most of the traffic we were running later than we had expected. We considered stopping in Santa Barbara as we had on a few past trips, but decided to continue on to see more of the coast during daylight and get to Solvang and our first hotel early enough to enjoy some sightseeing and some wine tasting rooms!

We stayed at the Krongborg Inn, which was just OK as a hotel, but very walkable to downtown Solvang and it’s countless wine tasting rooms. We got some good advice at the hotel, and started our early evening at the Wandering Dog Wine Bar. This is not a tasting room associated with a winery, but was a great place to start and had some very good wine tasting options and tasty cheese platters too. We left here with a couple of bottles our favorite wines. That started a trend that would continue throughout the vacation and allow us to revisit our favorites for months after we returned to San Diego. In fact we have one special bottle, the last of our take from this trip, we are planning to take with us on our 60th birthday trip next summer.
The Succulent Cafe almost derailed our wine tasting walk with it’s awesome smelling food and fun vibe, but we stayed with our plan to try out some more wines. The next tasting room we came too as we walked down the street was the Lucky Dog winery. Having had such luck at the Wandering Dog we decided to try this place out. We were not lucky at the Lucky Dog. Our tastings were not tasty! We also did not pickup any more wines. We had time for one more tasting before dinner so with great hope we walked into Casa Cassara for one more set of wines to taste! We had much better luck in this place, or possibly our taste buds were getting friendlier as we drank. The bottle we took with us tasted just fine later in the week, so I think we were still “discriminating” wine tasters at number 3!  For dinner we found another tasting room that also served food, Sevtap Winery Tasting room. We slowed things down, had some food and got a second wind. There was live music so we lingered after dinner and had a couple more glasses of wine. I don’t think we picked any bottles up here and we were happy to be able to walk back to the Hotel for a good night’s sleep after Sevtap. We would have a long ride the next day as we had to drive around Big Sur’s bridge and landslide issues and enter the area from the north.  But more on that in the next post!


A couple of days after our shopping trip in Playa del Carmen we made a trip to Xel Ha. This was the first thing we planned when we decided on Playa Del Carmen. We also had a visit to an ancient Mayan ruin, Tulum, scheduled, but our transportation to the ruin and then the park was a couple of hours late, so we decided to skip Tulum in order to have more time in Xel Ha. That was definitely a good decision. Xel Ha means mixing of the waters in the Mayan language. The park is spring fed fresh water lagoon with an outlet to the ocean that has been blocked. It is a great place to spend the day snorkeling. The buffet was pretty decent too.

We decided to head right to the far end of the park to start our snorkeling by floating down river. We road bikes to the launch point of the river, checked out snorkeling gear there, and then got in the water. The river is a channel of very clear water through very thick mangroves.

Tracy and Erik getting ready to snorkel at Xel-Ha

It is a relaxing float swim through this area. The water source that feeds this river is from a nearby spring.

Jenny in the water at Xel-Ha

At the end of this float you come out into the main bay area. The water here is brackish a mix of fresh water and salt water.  There is plenty of sea life, and some fun things along the shore including cliff jumping and short ziplines into the water.

We had 3 brave souls who jumped from the cliff…

I barely had time to turn on my camera to catch Nicole’s jump.  Good form, no water up the nose on this jump.

Nicole jumping in the water at Xel-Ha


Jenny didn’t hesitate a second and got a good strong jump. You can see the anticipation on her face as she is about to hit the water. Nice form and not too big of a splash. Hopefully not too much water up her nose.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My brother Tracy jumped with the most enthusiasm and of course the biggest splash!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We all did one of the zip lines. Unlike the previous zip lines I’ve been on this is not a harness ride as you have to jump off at the end… or at least that is the way it is supposed to go. You have a choice to sit on a swing like seat, or to grab a bar and hold on for the trip down the zip line. The seat seemed like a little less fun, and the bar definitely seemed more manly, so I went on the bar.

I was a little behind everyone else in line, so I was last up. Ran the 2-3 steps to the edge of the platform and jumped forward to get some good speed. What I was not expecting is that the cable had quite a bit of slack, so I shot off the platform then fell down 4-5 feet before hitting the bottom of the slack. Then my hands slipped of the bar and straight down I went. Luckily I missed the concrete footing the platform was set on. Embarrassing and not much fun. A couple of months ago there was a video of a very large guy doing a similar if not the same zipline and the same thing happened to him. Lots of unkind comments on that video!

I could not let that be my only memory of ziplining at Xel-ha so I swam around and took a second shot at it. Same bar, different technique! I walk to the edge with as much weight on the line as I could put by “pulling up” on the bar. This time there was no big drop, and I zipped down the line…

and into the water.

Not a huge thrill, but much more satisfying!

After this we swam over to where the buffet was and had a great meal. Less fancy than our resort, but it was really good. After lunch we went right back in for more snorkeling.

My underwater camera (a GoPro knockoff) was new and I had not used it before. My brother had a snorkel mask with a mount on the mask, and his GoPro (the real one) was acting up – battery would not charge, so he loaned the mask to me. Unfortunately I either put the camera on tipped up too much or adjusted it that way in the water. The idea is that where you look the camera looks too. So at the end of the day I thought I had a couple good videos of a ray passing under me and plenty of fish. Instead I had a few videos of the water in front of my head, with partial glimpses of what I was seeing. After this trip, I got a floating handle to hook the camera too. I’ve used this setup several times since then, and it works pretty well for me. I like being able to see what I’m capturing.

I can’t believe that I am still working on posts for our vacation we went on 19 months ago. I’ve been very busy, but really no excuse for how long it took to get this post. I still have one more post for our trip to Cozumel – one of our favorite days in Playa del Carmen. Then I have a lot of other things I need to post about. I better get on it!

Eight Days and seven nights at an all inclusive resort can definitely lead to over indulgence in all the “included” stuff.  Enjoy some great food, alcohol, relax around the pool, get some sleep then repeat!  We knew going in that “for our health” we needed to get out and about at least a few times.  Our stay at Ocean Riviera Paradise was an awesome vacation and the excursions definitely added to our fun. We planned 3 day trips during our week in Playa Del Carmen, a shopping trip a snorkeling trip to Xel Ha, and a ferry ride to Cozumel.

Our first excursion was a shopping trip into Playa Del Carmen’s Fifth Avenue shopping district. The resort arranged our ride to the shopping area, and for the same taxi to pick us up at a prearranged time. This is the place to go to for a vintage Mexican shopping experience. Fifth Avenue is long, walking only street, with shops lining both sides of the street. Never pay the first price, part of the fun is the negotiation. Only negotiate if you are serious about buying though, otherwise, what’s the fun in it that!

Do beware as a shopper though. I don’t think there is an intention to rip you off but be sure your expectations are realistic. I bought a single hammock while I was there. They also offered a double size hammock, but I thought a single would be fine. My expectation was that it would be like the single hammocks at the resort.

Me in a single hammock at the resort

That when I got into the hammock it would envelop me and I could nap with no fear of falling off the hammock. But the reality was the single hammock was much narrower.

Much narrower than my expectation

It might envelope a small bird, say a humming-bird, but not me…

To be fair, the hammock may get better if I stretch it out in the middle, but out of the bag it was only about 16 inches across with weight on it.

We started walking around 40th Street, which is the beginning of the pedestrian only part of 5th Avenue. About halfway to our turnaround point was a small traffic circle in the middle of a wider boulevard (Constitution Ave). We stopped there for a couple of pictures. I like this one of Jenny and Chris.

Jenny and Chris on our shopping trip in Playa Del Carmen

Although we were rarely together during the walk down Fifth Avenue, at a certain point we all got thirsty and a bit hungry at the same time. Although it felt to me that I was walking toward the beach the whole time, we were actually walking parallel about a block from the beach. We walked over that block and found a nice restaurant patio/deck on the beach (La Tarraya) and had a couple of drinks and some appetizers.

I don’t remember if it was before we had a couple of drinks or after, but my brother Tracy passed by a dive shop and just could not resist a prop on their patio. Not an Academy Award performance, but fairly convincing for only being in the jaws of a cut out shark!

The horror from the deep

By the time we finished our refreshments it was close to the halfway point to our pickup time so we slowly headed back toward our starting point. We got a little more serious about shopping on the way back, but still got back to our pickup point about 5 minutes early. The taxi was right on time and we headed back to the resort for dinner, a couple of drinks, and a good night’s sleep.

The following day we were back to enjoying the sand, the ocean, and the “all-inclusive” indulgences at Ocean Riviera Paradise. One useful purchase on 5th Avenue were 2 very large insulated cups. Those came in very handy as we lay in the shade by the beach. They held just enough margarita or pina colada to last until the next waiter showed up!

Enjoying the shade and a cold drink at Ocean Riviera Paradise

I’ll follow up soon with another post or two on the other excursions we took while in Playa Del Carmen.

To see all the Playa Del Carmen Post, and all of our tropical paradise trips, see my list of posts for Tropical Vacation Posts.

We were home in Iowa in October 2016 and overheard my brother, Tracy, talking about a trip to the Caribbean, possibly Jamaica the following spring. My wife, Jenny, and I had talked many times about tagging along on one of Tracy’s vacations. We thought it would probably be a Caribbean cruise (one of their favorites), but an all-inclusive resort sounded even better. Around the end of November Tracy called to work out the details. They had found a brand new all-inclusive resort near Playa Del Carmen Mexico and thought it was a good deal for a great looking resort. The resort would open in December and we would be there in March. We were all in!

There were some initial so-so reviews when they first opened in December/January, but we figured they would work the kinks out before we got there.  We did some last-minute planning including a couple of excursions, and scheduling the shuttle from the Airport to the resort about a month before the trip.

Our flights were terrible.  I’m used to red-eye flights to Europe, and have done a couple to the East Coast for business, but I don’t plan to do that again for a vacation on the East Coast.  The only benefit is we got to the resort early and got to enjoy the “all-inclusive” stuff for several hours before check-in.  My brother his wife Chris, and the other couple joining us Eric and Nicole got in very late about the time we were ready to crash for the night.

I’m going to do this post a little different from most I’ve done.  In this first post I’m going to describe the resort and our stay.  In a couple other posts I’m going describe the 3 trips we took out in to the local area for fun.

Ocean Riviera Paradise opened just a few months before our visit.  The resort was shiny and new, but had most of the bugs worked out.  I guess the first thing to describe is food!

There was one central buffet for dining for any meal, but for breakfast we also had a separate restaurant, based on the part of the resort we were in to have a full service breakfast.  The full service breakfast was good and the wait staff very friendly and helpful.  Jenny asked for salsa with her omelet, and they said they did not have any, but the waiter said he would make some fresh salsa just for her.  It was great.  With service like that we could have gone back every morning.  The only thing that stopped us was that the breakfast buffet was amazing.  It is hard to describe all the options available.  Self serve mimosa bar, cook to order eggs, tons of fresh fruit, pastries (my weakness), European style breakfast meat and cheese station and more.   We did the full service breakfast a couple of times, but we were at the buffet the other 5-6 mornings.

For lunch there were a couple of options, the main buffet again, and the beach club also had a lunch buffet and there was another BBQ style buffet near the beach pool.   Full disclosure, on the days we stayed at the resort we took full advantage of the beach, pool, and unlimited drinks! I think every day that we stayed at the resort we ate at the beach club or BBQ style buffet near the beach pool, except maybe one visit to the main buffet for lunch. Staking out a seat in the shade by the beach was a daily routine when we spent the day at the resort.
Shaded lounge chairs by the beach Ocean Riviera Paradise Resort
These lounge chairs were in an awesome location to enjoy the beach, pool, and the beach club food and drink, but there were not very many of them.  Don’t forget your water shoes as the beach is very rocky soon after entering the water.
Limited availability for shade at the beach

The pool was beautiful and the location great.  Be sure to bring plenty of waterproof sunscreen!  If you go out to stake out locations early be sure to bring your camera as the morning is a great time to photograph the pool.  No one will be in it and the morning sky can be gorgeous.

Ocean Riviera Paradise beach pool at sunrise

The funnest time we had in the pool by our building, the El Beso, was on Thursday during the “don’t miss” foam party.  It’s a big pool and gets very foamed up for the party.

Foam party at the El Beso pool Ocean Riviera Paradise

Also plenty of party music and drinks and the pool bar.

Aftermath of the foam party and the pool bar at El Beso in Ocean Riviera Paradise

It’s a good time for a group picture… this is the group minus one.

Group picture minus one at the foam party

For dinners we hit all the restaurants.  My favorite was the Italian Restaurant across from our rooms, the least favorite was the only one we needed reservations for, Sakura a Japanese Hibachi style restaurant.  Even that was pretty good.  The service overall throughout the resort was great.  Being new, the buildings and grounds were terrific.  We loved the vacation, and would consider an all-inclusive resort on another trip in the future.  Here are a few more pictures of our favorite location at the resort, the beach!

Ocean Riviera Paradise beach club

Ocean Riviera Paradise beach club

Pelicans over the roof of the Ocean Riviera Paradise beach club

Pelicans over the roof of the Ocean Riviera Paradise beach club

Sunrise from the beach at Ocean Riviera Paradise

Sunrise from the beach at Ocean Riviera Paradise

Swim-out pool outside our room

Swim-out pool outside our room

Full moon at the Ocean Riviera Paradise

Full moon at the Ocean Riviera Paradise

We did a few excursions during the week so I will follow-up with one of more posts about those.

To see all our Tropical Vacation Posts go to our Tropical Vacation Posts page.

On our second day in Yosemite, we got going at a reasonable time. It was still pretty cold in the morning until the sun had a chance to warm the place up a bit. Bridal Veil Creek Campground is at an elevation of 7000 feet so expect it to be a little colder than some of the campgrounds at lower elevation. We had coffee and a warm breakfast to help us warm up though.

The plan for day two was to head down into the valley to explore and to do the short hike up to the bridge below Vernal Falls. This would be our only full day in Yosemite for this quick car camping trip so we wanted to make the best of it. Our first stop on the way down to the valley was at the iconic Tunnel View stop. Don’t pass this parking lot up if you are coming in to Yosemite from the south. If you are not drive up here anyway. No visit to Yosemite is complete without seeing the valley from this angle!

It was a hazy fall day, so the valley features are blurred, but if every picture I took from this place was under the same conditions it would be a bit boring. So I love this picture as much as any I have taken from Tunnel View. Also take note of the yellow/dead trees in the foreground. Although the main Yosemite Valley area was mostly unaffected by the bark beetle when we visited in September 2016, the surrounding areas were affected and some areas you could see from the high roads leading into the park from the south were absolutely devastated. As I write this there is a huge fire, the 2017 Detwiler fire is raging west of Yosemite. Although I fear this fire could easily rage through these areas damaged by the bark beetle I have mixed feelings about it. Some area have 50% or more dead trees and so I don’t know what else could clear this many dead trees. I feel for the residents in this area who may lose their homes and I hope everyone involved stays safe, but unfortunately large fires in California are inevitable over the next several years until these large swaths of dead trees are cleared.

Our plan for our only full day in Yosemite was to hike up the John Muir/Mist Trail to at least the bridge below Vernal Falls. This part of the trail is fairly easy and paved to the bridge. It does have some steep parts, but walking up through the rocks and trees is worth it.

Heading-up-John Muir-Mist-Trail

We came down at the end of our 2010 Panorama Trail hike in 2010. I thought back to that hike when I saw Dave walking backward up the trail.


In 2010 we had not done much training to prepare for the Panorama Trail hike, and we were really feeling it in our calves by this part of the trail. The youngsters (Sean and Matthew) were doing fine, but Dave, Richard, and I were feeling it. I don’t have pictures of us lower on the trail to Vernal, but I do have a picture of the 3 old guys on the Mist Trail just below Vernal Falls.

Dave - Richard and Eric near the top of Vernal Falls

We would not go that high on the trail on this trip, and there would be much less water on Vernal, but this is a beautiful trail no matter what the conditions are. This time there would only be a trickle of water coming over Vernal Falls and even that was barely visible from the bridge.

We had our lunch on the rocks just past the bridge. As usual the squirrels, and birds were very interested in our food. We headed back down from this point and back to where we parked at Curry Village. Yeah I know they renamed it to Half Dome Village, but I’m not interested in what it says on the signs! It will always be Curry Village to me.

We did some souvenir shopping at Curry Village and the Main Yosemite Village stores, and then decided to get Pizza. It was fortune for us that the Pizza Parlor at the Yosemite Village was closed, because that lead us back to Curry Village to the Pizza place there. The pizza was good, but the real win was the lighting on the canyon walls when we got ready to leave. We stopped on the side of the road just outside Curry Village. From there we saw quite a show. Half Dome and North Dome were lit to a Golden Glow.


A deer was grazing on grass just a little ways off the road.


And the moon was just about to set behind Glacier Point.

With a little zoom, it was much more impressive…


As much as I love those pictures, my favorite picture of the trip would be a drive by picture at Tunnel View on our way back to Bridal Veil campgrounds. It was getting late and we still had a ways to go to get back to our campsite, so no one really wanted to get out to look take a second look. I snapped this picture from the car.

Normally I try to get up to the wall and leave everyone out of this picture. What I like so much about this picture is the people. The smiles, the families… this is really what I love most about Yosemite, sharing it with family and friends.

The lighting was great though, so I parked and ran up for one more picture, without the people.

Beautiful, but I like the first one better. We got back to camp, started a campfire and braved the cold for a few hours of visiting. Unfortunately we would be breaking down camp in the morning and heading home. It was a short, but fun trip, and we are always glad to hang with Dave and Wendy! We will definitely be back to Yosemite and I would love to stay at Bridal Veil Campgrounds again. I think our next visit is likely to be a back-country trip though. The High Sierra Camps most likely (just added that to the Bucket List not long ago). All the joys of a backpack trip without the backpack!

This was my fourth time in Yosemite in 6 years and fifth time overall. Although the place was the same, each visit was unique. This trip was planned early in 2016 as a quick car camping trip. Although our trip in 2011 had been in August, and this was just one month later, we knew that the visit would be much different. In 2011 there had been tremendous amounts of snow, so we had to delay our planned July trip to August to allow the snow to clear from the back country trails we planned to backpack on. With all that snow, the waterfalls were still roaring in August. We knew that 2016 would be very dry as we were coming off not one but four years of drought. We love the waterfalls of Yosemite, but that is not all we love. Yosemite valley is the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited and that was no different in September 2016 than it had been any of my previous visits.

The reason for the timing of our trip was that our friends Wendy and Dave Claman were coming to Southern California to visit with family at Disneyland. We would meet them immediately after their visit to Disneyland and drive together to Yosemite. We had car camped in Yosemite in 2010 and 2016 at a campgrounds well outside the valley, Hodgdon Meadow. In fact the campsite these 2 years were right next to each other. Hodgdon is about 20 miles from the valley, but it is a beautiful campgrounds and was, at least in 2010, a beautiful drive to the valley. By 2016 two major fires had devastated the areas both north and south of Hodgdon Meadow campground. However, we made reservations there again as that was the only campgrounds available when we finally decided to “do it” and worked out the details.

When we arrived in Yosemite’s southern entrance we had to skip seeing the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias again as the grove was closed for renovations designed to protect the huge trees. I’ve seen the other 2 groves of Sequoias in Yosemite the Tuolumne and Merced Groves, but wanted to see the Mariposa Grove one of these days. We planned to head straight to the valley, but decided at the last minute that we would turn toward Glacier Point before heading to the valley.

Glacier Point has some of the most spectacular views anywhere in Yosemite. It is almost surreal all of the spectacular things you can see from there. It is hard to put a scale to all that you are seeing. Of course Half Dome catches your eye right away.
Half Dome Tenaya canyon and Clouds Rest from Glacier Point

To the right of Half Dome you can see well into the distance many of the high Sierra snow-capped peaks.

Take a closer look lower in the same view and you can make out both Vernal and Nevada Falls and parts of the Mist Trail.

Although I’ve been to Glacier Point before, it was usually a quick trip or the start of a hike or backpacking trip. I’ve never taken the time to explore Glacier Point beyond the area right in front of the gift shop. That first area you walk up to from the parking lot is actually the trail head for the short paved trail to Glacier Point. The views don’t change much as you walk toward the point, but there are “things of interest” all along the short trail if you walk back toward the true “Glacier Point”.

The first stop on the short hike is the Geology Hut. It is a small stone structure with awesome views.



If you watch close along the trail you are likely to see some wildlife even though it is a paved trail with tons of people walking on it. I got a good shot of this raven taking a rest.


There are lots of opportunities for pictures when you get to the actual “Glacier Point”, but you’ll have to squeeze in to the crowd.

There are a few places to pose for pictures that are less crowded, like the famous overhang rock just a short walk off the end of the Glacier Point trail.


I found another way to cut the crowd out though…


and as you can see with the “crowd” back in the shot, it was much safer than overhang rock.

Jenny humored me and posed on a flat rock between the upper and lower viewing areas at Glacier Point.


While at Glacier point we decided to see if there was any “space available” at the Bridalveil
Creek campgrounds which is beside the road on the way back down from Glacier Point. That was a very good idea! Since we got there relatively early on a Thursday we were able to choose from quite a few camp sites. We got a nice site near the middle of the campgrounds, but very private. Bridalveil Creek campgrounds is a very nice place with plenty of large trees and some areas of rocks that are pretty cool too. We initially wanted a site by the rocky area as they seemed even more private, but they were also smaller and we had two vehicles to park and planned to set up 2 fairly large tents for the 5 people in our group. But in the end we loved the site we finally selected. There was plenty of room to park, level ground for our tents, and a reasonable walk to the bathrooms.


We set up camp, collected some fire wood for the camp fire, made dinner, and settled in for the night. I love sitting around the campfire sharing memories and making new one. I’ve been friends with Dave for more than 40 years, so there are lots of memories to talk about. One other thing was a bit unexpected about this trip and this campground. It can get really cold at Bridalveil Creek Campgrounds at night in September. The unexpected cold weather cut our campfire time down a bit, but still a great time. We would head down into the valley in the morning, but I’ll do a second post for day two.

Check out this page listing all of my Yosemite National Park posts: Yosemite National Park Posts

We slowed things down for the last couple days in Maui. We spent both days at the beach and tooling around Lahaina. On Friday we spent most of the day at Black Rock Beach. We got very lucky at the small public parking lot near the Sheraton Resort. Just as we pulled in a car was leaving, so we nabbed a terrific parking spot. We set up our chairs on the beach and hit the water. We headed toward the black rock area. There were several people jumping off rocks there. I was not interested in climbing up there but my friend Dave jumped off a couple of times. I had bought a disposable underwater camera, one of the few things that still uses film. I tried to get pictures of him as he hit the water, but the camera was not that sensitive. In fact I had a really hard time telling when it actually took a picture – no click!

Jenny got one picture of me under the water.

Eric diving under the water

The other pictures we took like that did not turn out. We really have grown used to being able to look at the pictures we take immediately on our digital cameras. At some point I would like to get a good underwater enclosure for my digital camera. Until then I’ll have to go back to hoping the pictures I take are good.

We swam over past the end of the protected area of black rock beach to an area with nice coral. The coral was not the best I’ve ever swam above, but it was pretty nice. The waves “fairly gently” moved us in and back out from the shallows near the edge of the water. I say fairly gently because every so often a bigger wave would come in and push quite a bit harder. I backed off regularly to be sure that I would not be pushed into the rocks.

I love gliding over coral. It feels like you are visiting a different world. I’m very comfortable in the water and could spend hours floating in an area like this. Twice while I floated in this area a turtle passed by. Both times I followed behind the turtle as it swam over the coral. My goal was to get a picture of a turtle and the state fish of Hawaii, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a together in a single picture. I didn’t miss my chance to get several shots of the turtles while I waited. I got a couple good shots of the first one as it passed over the coral.



I really like the lighting for this shot of the second turtle.


Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to get the turtle and fish together, but I did get this picture of the humuhumunukunukuapua’a swimming near a bluespine unicorn fish.


After a couple trips into the water and plenty of time on the beach we decided to get drinks and pupus at the pool bar at the Sheraton. I definitely recommend spending some time there the next time you are in Maui!

That night we had dinner at Kimo’s in Lahaina. I really recommend this place for the food, the location, and the service. The view from our table wasn’t too bad either.


On our last full day in Maui we decided to really go casual. We grabbed the boogie boards and drove away from Lahaina along Honoapiilani Highway until a spot grabbed us. This was the unlikely spot we chose to hangout, swim, and boogie board along Honoapiilani Highway.

The beach was a bit rocky, the road a bit close, and the surf a bit shallow, but we had a great time and managed to slow the day down as much as possible. Although it might not look like much from the road we had a place to set up the chairs without walking far, and without fighting a crowded beach. There was one other family near us, but that was it. We were also able to set up under a tree, so we had some shade. The tree also helped frame some nice shots of the beach.



But it was more a day for relaxing than taking pictures. Right before we left unfortunately Jenny cut her foot on a rock under the water. It was a pretty bad cut. The only good thing about it was it didn’t happen on our first day! We got some first aid items on the way back to the condo, fixed her up and enjoyed the rest of the night visiting and doing some last minute souvenir shopping in Lanai.

On the last day we had arranged to meet a local man at the airport to get a turtle he carved for us during the week. We had met him on the street in Lahaina. I was a bit unsure of how well the turtle would turn out but we were very happy with the end result.


We decided to give him a nice tip on top of the agreed upon price.

It’s been a year since we went on this trip (yes I’m way behind on my blog posts). I’m really glad we decided to visit all the different islands rather than just going back to Kauai again. We loved Kauai and will definitely visit there again, but our next visit to Hawaii will most likely be to the big island of Hawaii and Hawaii Valcanoes National Park. It may be a year or two before we can put that on the schedule. Until then we’ll have lot’s of good memories from this trip.

To see all our Tropical Vacation Posts go to our Tropical Vacation Posts page.

We went into 2015 with the intent to have fewer planned vacations.  I started a new job with fewer vacation days to start.  I would have no vacation days early in the year, so we decided to plan a trip to Hawaii later in the year so I could save up a few days.  We decided to go the week of Columbus day to save even more of my vacation time (I only needed 3 days of vacation time).  Our last trip to Hawaii was to Kauai in 2011 and we had a great time.  For that trip we stayed in two different locations and both of them were right on the water.  We wanted to do things a little differently this time.  We decided to look for a condo near Front Street in Lahaina so we could walk to the shops and restaurants in that area.  We would drive to the beaches but be able to relax and enjoy ourselves in Lahaina without worrying about having to drive home.  We found a condo 2 blocks from Front Street.  The condo was in the Aina Nalu a condo property partially managed by Outrigger and partially privately owned condos. It has lots of amenities but the true appeal is the location. We ended up getting one of the privately owned condos in this property that was listed on Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO).  It was a 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo which was perfect for us and the other couple Dave and Wendy who would be going with us.  We’ve had several terrific vacations with them over the past several years.  Although they live in Boise Idaho and we live in San Diego we actually got together 4 times in 2015; once for this trip, once for my daughters wedding in California, once for his daughters wedding in Idaho, and again for New Years eve and a trip to the Rose Bowl on New Years day.

We had a great time in Maui, but there was one unexpected thing that made Hawaii a little less of a paradise on this trip.  Due to the El Niño in the Pacific the temperatures and humidity were much higher than usual.  Most days were in the 80s with humidity in the 90 percent range.  This is not normal, and not what we expected for October in Hawaii.  Even though we only had a 2 block walk to Front Street in Lahaina, by the time we got there we would be dripping sweat.  I’m pretty sure this is the last time I’ll go to Hawaii during an El Niño year.  Our first day/night in Maui we just took it easy.  On the way from the airport we got some groceries to stock up the frig.  After we checked in to the condo, we walked down to Front Street to get lunch.  We decided on a burger place right on the water called… Cheeseburger in Paradise.  The food was delicious, the service good, and the view from our table was amazing.  We checked out some of the shops along front street which are mostly souvenir shops and art galleries and we spent quite a bit of time under the Banyan Tree at a regular art festival. Got a picture of Dave and Wendy under one of the trunks of the tree.

Dave and Wendy under the Banyan Tree Lahaina

After the long flight and the unusual heat we decided to head back to the condo to clean up, catch-up and take it easy. Jenny and I took a nap for a few hours, then we decided to take another walk downtown after dark.  We walked under the Lahaina Court House banyan tree again.  It is an amazing tree, really hard to believe it is only one tree.

Lahaina Banyan Court night view

Then we walked out toward the pier and I got this image of Front Street lit up from the park behind the Lahaina Public Library.

View of Lahaina Front Street at night

As we walked back toward Front Street I noticed a place that was advertising an old favorite snack – Dole Whip (frozen pineapple juice).  I convinced everyone it was worth the calories!  After wondering around Front Street again for a bit, we gave in to the jet lag, and headed back to the condo to get a good night’s sleep.

Dave and Wendy had arrived a couple days earlier than us to do some exploring.  They found a beach they really loved, Kapalua Beach, so on day 2 we decided to check it out.  We stopped at a snorkeling/boogie board rental place on our way out of Lahaina.  The person working there was a wealth of knowledge and gave us some great tips for how to best do things we planned later in the week, like the road to Hana and a bike ride down from Haleakala after seeing the sunrise over the crater.  Her advice really helped us enjoy the rest of the week, and we got good prices on the equipment rentals and the bike ride reservations.

There were areas of rain just about every day we were in Maui, but luckily there also were areas on the island where it was not raining.  On the way to Kapalua Beach we saw some rain clouds, which were a bit concerning, but it was not raining near the beach.  There is a small public parking lot near Kapalua Beach which provides great access to the beach, but you have to get there pretty early to get a spot.  There were no spots available when we got there, but there was still plenty of parking along  Lower Honoapiilani Road.  Even that fills in fairly quickly so the earlier you get there the closer you will be to the beach.  We were only about a quarter mile down the road, so not too bad.

There are public bathrooms on the way down to the beach, and then you go through a short tunnel and on to the beach.  There were quite a few people there already, but still plenty of room to set up our chairs and beach towels (provided by the condo rental) in a nice shady area.  The beach is in a beautiful cove but it is just a short walk to nearby resorts and restaurants.

View of Merrimans Maui from Kapalua Beach

View of resort near Kapalua Beach Maui

Even in the shade it wasn’t long before we were hot and ready to get in the water. My friend Dave was happy to lead the way by putting his mask and fins on in his chair and then walking down to the water. There are few things in life that are funnier than someone walking on the beach in fins. We all had a great laugh. Luckily I caught the whole thing on a video! I decided to share a screen capture of the video rather than the video. Definitely evokes memories of Charlie Chaplain’s walk as the Tramp!

Dave walking into the water at Kapalua Beach with his fins on

Although we enjoyed the beach and swimming, we wanted to try a different snorkeling spot. We were hoping to see more coral, fish, and maybe some turtles. We had heard that Black Rock was a good place to snorkel so decided to head there. Not really knowing the area or the best way to approach the snorkeling area we decided to park at what we thought was a good public parking/access area at Kahekili Beach Park. That would mean hauling our stuff about .7 miles from the parking lot to an area near the Black Rock area. We had stopped at the Honolua Store on the way back to the highway from Kapalua Beach to get some sandwiches and drinks for lunch, so we were set until dinner. The walk on the path and beach took a little more effort than we expected and it was definitely starting to warm up.

Walking from Kahekili Beach Park toward Black Rock

We set up our stuff under a large tree to enjoy the shade again. After swimming for a bit, Dave and I decided to walk over to black rock area to see what snorkeling in that area was like. We headed out along the large black rocks. There was no coral and not really anything of interest. We decided to go out past the end of the rock and go around the corner to see what was out there. We passed an opening in the rocks and continued on for about another 50 yards. The water was getting deeper and deeper to our right and there was really nothing to see. I started to hear the Jaws theme music in my head, and kept looking into the murky deep water to our right expecting to see a shark coming our way at any point. After a brief discussion we decided there was nothing to see this way and decided to head back. On the way out we had not noticed we were being pushed along by a current. We definitely felt the current as we fought it back to the corner as we headed back. Progress was slow, but steady. As we approached the opening in the rocks, Dave decided to climb up on the rock and take a break. We were both a bit tired after fighting the current. As he was getting out he smacked his knee on the rock and after we both rested for a bit he decided to walk back to the beach over the rocks rather than get back into the water. Now it was time for me to look a bit silly. I have very tender feet. It’s actually a bit embarrassing. I was walking so funny it concerned Jenny and Wendy so they came over to see if we had gotten hurt. We were fine, but my pride was a bit bruised. Luckily no one got a video of my walk of shame!

We hung under the shade tree for a little while longer. It looked like a rubber tree or a magnolia based on the leaves, but as I sat there I noticed a bird fly in and land on a branch. The branch had what looked like nuts on it. Just as I mentioned this to Jenny a nut fell off the tree and landed on her. To avoid getting pelleted by more nuts, we decided to pack it up and to head further northwest toward Nakalele Point and the blowhole. We stopped first at an overlook just past the Honolua Bay, a great snorkeling area that we planned to check out later in the week. We drove out on a dirt road to a parking area not far from the main road. This area not only has great views of Honolua Bay…

Honolua Bay

there is also terrific views of a surfing area near Lipoa Point.

Surfers near Lipoa Point Maui

It was a beautiful place. We decided to come back later in the week to snorkel at Honolua Bay then come up to this overlook afterward to have some wine and cheese and enjoy the view.

The Nakalele Point blowhole was next. As we walked down the path we came upon this very welcoming sign.

Warning sign at Nakalele Point blowhole

It may seem a little over dramatic, but there have been people who have died at this place. Jenny and Wendy were in flip flops and decided to not go all the way down. They could see the blowhole, but Dave and I decided to go a little closer. This area is basically an outcropping of old lava. It is surreal rough terrain, but I think it was well worth the climb down.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But the best view was not of the blowhole it was back toward the coastline from Nakalele Point.

View back toward the coast from Nakalele Point

Jenny and I braved facing into the sun for one more picture before we headed back toward Lahaina.

Eric and Jenny near Nakalele Point Maui

When we got back to Lahaina, it was very close to sunset. We wanted to see it while we ate, so rather than going back to condo to clean up change we just looked for parking on Front Street. The parking gods must have been on our side because we came on a parking spot only a couple blocks from the restaurant we had decided to eat at – Bubba Gumps.

We definitely had a great view from our table of the sun setting behind the island of Lanai.

Another view from our table at Bubba Gumps Lahaina Maui

View from our table at Bubba Gumps Lahaina Maui

As we ate dinner we decided to do the Road to Hana the next morning.  We planned to hike the Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku Falls at the end of the Road to Hana.  The very helpful lady at the equipment rental business had recommended that if we wanted to do this hike we should leave early and drive all the way to the end of the Road to Hana without stopping, then do any stops we wanted to do on the way back.  So that was our plan at the end of our first full day in Maui.  We were tired, satisfied that we had “stuffed” enough fun into this day, so after dinner we headed home to get some sleep so we could get up early for the Road to Hana!

To see all our Tropical Vacation Posts go to our Tropical Vacation Posts page.

The summer of 2015 is over. This week we had rain on more than one day, and a night that got down to 60 degrees. I’m also leaving the house for work while it is still dark out! Some times it is hard to tell in San Diego when the summer ends. We have faux summer days throughout most of our winter, and often these are sunnier and warmer than the days in June and July. The summer of 2015 was a hot one though. We had record heat, but also a few days of rain which is rare, but not unheard of during a summer with an El Nino.

This year was also different for us than the last few years because we intentionally planned fewer major things to do. Over the last couple years we’ve had to turn down opportunities to do things with friends and family because we were over booked. We wanted to slow down a bit and make more room for last-minute opportunities. That worked out pretty well. I would say we still rarely had a free weekend to just hangout and we spent a lot more time doing things with friends and family. Although we are likely to plan more next year, but we’ll be careful to include friends and family and to leave some time open.

At the beginning of May I kicked off the summer by leaving San Diego for the colder climate of Denmark. It was a work trip and unlike the last time I went to Denmark for work, this trip was all work. We got to Denmark, had a quick Breakfast in Nyhavn in Copenhagen…

Breakfast in Nyhavn May 2015

and then headed for the countryside and our work assignment. On our last day in Denmark we packed up at the hotel at 4 am and headed straight to the airport. We did get to see the sun coming up through the windmills as we drove through the countryside.

Sun coming up through the windmills Denmark May 2015

The work was good, and there were a lot of work related social events to keep it interesting, but I did not take advantage of “being there” by spending some extra personal time checking out new places.  Maybe next time.

The summer was in full swing in San Diego when I got back. We had a couple of college graduations in May, my oldest daughter, Monica, and her fiancée, Ricky. In fact they had a very busy summer and we were glad we left time in our schedule to hang out with them. They graduated in May, moved to San Diego from Murrieta in June, and got married in July!

Although we love live music, we cut back on the planned concerts too. However, Memorial Day weekend had a couple of big ones we didn’t want to miss. Three of my favorite acts played together at Sleep Train Amphitheater in Chula Vista on Saturday, Matt Nathanson, The Fray, and Train. Here are a few of my favorite pictures from Saturday night.

Matt Nathanson getting the audience involved Chula Vista May 2015

Matt Nathanson getting the audience involved Chula Vista May 2015

The Fray - You Found Me - Chula Vista CA

The Fray – You Found Me – Chula Vista CA

Pat from Train explaining how she drowned in a hot tub

Pat from Train explaining how she drowned in a hot tub

On Sunday night, The Rolling Stones, one of my wife Jenny’s favorite bands played at PetCo Park. We went with friends complete with a hotel room, warmup party, and after party! PetCo is a great venue and the bands energy level was amazing.

View of the stage and downtown San Diego Rolling Stones May 2015

View of the stage and downtown San Diego Rolling Stones May 2015

Mick Jagger holding still for a picture finally

Mick Jagger holding still for a picture finally

I did make some progress around the house this summer. I painted the Master Bedroom, Master Bathroom, upstairs guest bathroom and the laundry room. As usual picking the colors was the hardest part of this project. We went with a blue in the Master Bedroom, kind of a walk on the wild side for us, but we like the way it turned out. The color in the Master Bathroom was supposed to be a variation of sea-foam green. It actually turned out looking different, but Jenny liked it so much she let me use the same color in the guest bathroom and laundry room! I also replaced some very restrictive canned light fixtures throughout the house. They required a push in 4 pin fluorescent bulb that was hard to find, not that efficient, costly, and they only lasted about 2 years. I replaced the original fixtures with standard screw in fixtures and then put in LED bulbs. I shouldn’t have to worry about those bulbs again before we move to the old folks home!

The biggest improvement to the house this year was the installation of rooftop solar. I expected that we would save money in the long run, but with the record heat this summer we saved a ton of money this year alone. Last summer during a hot month we ran our AC for 2 weeks in a row one month and the bill was about $280 over normal. This summer we ran our AC almost every day and our electric bill was $10-$20 extra a month.

In June, we had a great time with family and friends in Yosemite. I still have one more post to do for that trip (really behind on the blog posts again this year). I really don’t know where June went. We didn’t have a lot on the calendar, but it flew by.

July was the busiest month of the summer. We started off July by celebrating our 3rd anniversary. We saw John Butler Trio at Humphreys in San Diego. We had been to Humphreys before but it was not one of our favorite venues. However, this time was different. We got a room, so we were not rushing around, and the concert was general admission. The previous concert we saw was seated and I’m not a fan of the seating they put in. General Admission was perfect! We got there early and got a place right in front of the stage. John Butler can do things with a guitar that I’ve never heard before. We love his songs Pick Apart and Better Things.

John Butler Trio Humphreys By the Sea July 2015

In the middle of the month we saw our last Green Flash Concert at the Birch Aquarium. We had season tickets to this concert series 4 years in a row, but decided to only go to one this year. I wasn’t a fan of the main act, Bad Suns, but the opening act Zella Day was awesome. She has a spectacular voice and sang well.

Zella Day Greenflash Concert Birch Aquarium July 2015

I’m not sure this will be our last Green Flash concert ever, but the radio station, KPRI, that has sponsored this show for the last 10 years closed down the other day. I just happened to be listening to the station when one of the owners came on the air with no warning and delivered the news that they would go off the air immediately. I’ll definitely miss the station, the private listener concerts, the Green Flash concerts and the people I had listened to since moving to San Diego. There aren’t a lot of locally owned radio station left. Even though they had made some changes recently, I was adjusting and wish I could have them to listen to next summer.

My daughter’s wedding was at the end of July. We had lots of family and friends in town before, during, and after the wedding. I enjoyed visiting with them and doing some touristy things around San Diego more than anything else we did all summer. It was a beautiful ceremony, and my daughter was a lovely bride. I’ll never stop worrying about any of my kids, but she and Ricky are on a very good path! Here are some of the summer fun things we did in San Diego with family and friends.

Tide pools at Point Loma

Tide pools at Point Loma

Taking the Coronado ferry just before sunset

Taking the Coronado ferry just before sunset

A little kiss on the Midway

A little kiss on the Midway – Unconditional Surrender!

Horse Races at Del Mar

Horse Races at Del Mar

Heading out to watch some Blue Whales

Heading out to watch some Blue Whales

And a few of the wedding.

Thoughtful and touching gifts when we checked in to our hotel room

Thoughtful and touching gifts when we checked in to our hotel room

Walking my daughter down the aisle

Walking my daughter down the aisle

A first dance as husband and wife

A first dance as husband and wife

In August we got to do it all over again when my best friend’s daughter got married in Idaho. We love camping, fishing, and rafting in Idaho. I’ll add attending weddings to that list. We had a great time and I saw some of Dave’s family that I had not seen in a while. We stayed a couple of nights in a cabin north of Boise and the wedding was at a golf course in a small town nearby. I wish we could have stayed longer!

September was another month that seemed to fly by. I had some work travel and a couple of really busy work weeks here in San Diego but we also fit in seeing Sam Smith, Death Cab for Cutie (at our favorite San Diego venue, SDSU Open Air Theater), a couple of bear festivals, and the first annual family fantasy football league and draft party. I love football, but I’m definitely relying on beginner’s luck for this first time doing a fantasy league.

The summer of 2015 was a summer to enjoy family and friends, enjoy the new additions to our family, make lasting memories that will last a lifetime, and to hold on to the good memories of those who weren’t able to share this summer with us. I hope you had a great summer this year too!

After the very slow lazy day floating down the Merced through Yosemite Valley, we were ready for a little more exertion on day 3 of our car camping trip to Yosemite. Our original plan was for some of the group to hike to the top of vernal while the more ambitious folks hiked to Half Dome from the valley floor. I hike to the top of Half Dome in 2011 from Little Yosemite Valley, but wanted to do it the more traditional and more difficult route all the way from the valley floor. In 2011 we had back country permits and backpacked from Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley the day before hiking to Half Dome. The good thing about getting back country permits is that you automatically can request permits for Half Dome. If you want to go from the valley floor you have to enter the seasonal and/or daily lottery for permits. We had done both, but unfortunately we did not get selected in either lottery. Hiking the Mist Trail and having lunch above Vernal Falls is not a bad consolation prize.

Our group got separated at the beginning of the trail, into 2 or 3 smaller groups. We had driven separately and some of us took the shuttle and others walked from the parking lot at Curry Village to the trailhead. We had agreed to meetup a short distance up the trail. Our group was pretty diverse when it came to conditioning and even desire to do a tough hike. I was just glad we all made it at least to the rally point. It was a fairly hot day, and the first part of the trail, even though it is paved, is pretty steep. We were hoping to get everyone to at least the bridge below Vernal Falls, but a couple of people decided today was not the day to do that. A few people took off quick, a few went at a moderate pace (me included) but the biggest group hung together at a slow but steady pace. The trail is fairly level until you get to the High Sierra Loop Trail sign not too far from the road. I like to get pictures of this so I don’t have to look up the distance that I hiked!

Sean by the High Sierra Loop Trail sign

The planned hike to the top of Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail and back down on the John Muir Trail would be about 4.5 miles, however, a few of us would go back down the Mist Trail and a few would end up doing several extra miles. Once you get past the sign and start up the fairly steep pave trail, you start to see why this is one of the most popular trails in Yosemite. There are trees and boulders along most of the trail.

Jenny heads up the paved part of the trail to Vernal Falls

And the Merced can be heard and sometime seen tumbling toward the Valley as you climb the trail.

The Merced tumbling toward the Valley beside the Mist Trail

Although the trail is steep, it is really not far to the bridge below Vernal Falls.

The bridge below Vernal Falls just ahead

The views here are terrific and there is fresh water to fill your water containers. If you have friends who aren’t sure they want to sign up for a big hike, get them to sign up to at least hike to this bridge it is only .8 miles from the start of the trail. The best part of this point in the hike is you can see just enough of the falls to entice them to go further!

View of Vernal Falls with Sentinal Dome behind from the bridge

Just get them this far, take a snack break, then point out that the views closer to the falls are spectacular and it really isn’t that much farther to get up close.

Note: I noticed after I got home that all 500+ pictures I took with my Nikon camera had a smudge on the left hand side of the photo. For many of the pictures in the posts for this trip I was able to crop out the blur/smudge. I couldn’t bring myself to crop out Sentinel Dome in the above picture. Unfortunately several pictures that could have been awesome were completely ruined. Lesson learned: clean the camera lens daily!  Note2: The camera lens was actually damaged not smudged but I would not realize it until after our trip to Maui 4 months later.

We took a break to refill our water bladders, use the restroom, and have a snack. As usual, anywhere with food, there will be squirrels waiting for a chance to nab some of your food!

Squirrel near the bridge below Vernal falls nabs some accidentally dropped snack

The trail as you leave the bridge area on the way toward Vernal Falls is not overly steep, runs right beside the Merced, and is shaded at first.

Mist Trail Yosemite just above the bridge toward Vernal Falls

While you’re still in the shade you will pass a sign that marks the point that the John Muir Trail splits off. We planned to come back on this trail from the top of Vernal Falls for a couple of reasons. First that trail is more gentle (although longer) and easier on the knees on the way down. Second, there are some terrific views of the falls from the trail that connects the Mist Trail to the John Muir Trail a short distance above Vernal Falls.

Eventually the shade goes away and the trail turns into granite stairs that lead you up and past Vernal Falls.

Granite stairs below Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail Yosemite

This is my favorite part of the trail and the reason this trail is called the “Mist” Trail. When the falls are going strong there is a constant mist everywhere along this part of the trail. I’ve been on this trail a couple of times before, both times it was later in the summer, but this year the falls had the least amount of water I’d seen. Still not too bad, just less mist.

Vernal Falls Yosemite

I frequently forget to look back when I’m hiking uphill, especially when there is something as spectacular as Vernal Falls in front of you. We weren’t planning to come back down this trail, so I looked back several times on this stretch of the trail. I’m glad I did. You can see the river far below and across the valley Glacier Point and the start of the Panorama Trail.

View back down the Mist Trail on the stairs as you approach Vernal Falls

As you approach Vernal Falls, the views of the falls get even more spectacular. There is a spot before you turn to go up even more steps that is perfect for getting pictures. I took this picture of Sean while we waited for the rest of the group at that point.

Sean Rial hiking to the top of Vernal Falls 2015

Sean took this picture of me and Jenny at the same spot.

Jenny and Eric Rial Vernal Falls 2015

Because it had been such a dry winter and spring, the falls were the lowest I had ever seen them. I know they go even lower than this, but I wanted to feel more of the mist. We noticed at one point that a lot of people were taking a side trail to get closer to the falls. I probably would not have done it if the falls were heavier, but with less water/mist, we decided to check it out.

Trail leading to rocks just below Vernal Falls

This turned out to be my favorite part of the hike. It was a very cool experience!

Going off trail at Vernal Falls Yosemite

When we headed back to the main trail, there was a Ranger there discouraging people from leaving the main trail. I’m glad we got there before she did and experienced the falls up close.

Of course the big payoff with getting this close is to get in the shot. That is a little easier said than done. The lighting is not great, the angle to get the falls and people in is tough, and the lens of your camera will get wet. It was easier to do this with the camera on my phone, than my other camera, so we did get one good shot.

Jenny, Sean, and Eric Rial on the rocks above the pool at Vernal Falls Yosemite

After cooling off in the mist of Vernal Falls we were ready to finish the climb to the top of the falls. One of the last good shots I got of Vernal is through the trees, so you can’t see the top of the falls, but it is a good view of the pool below the falls.

Vernal Falls through the trees near the top

I don’t have any good pictures of the last part of the trail to the top of Vernal Falls, so I’ll just describe it. The trail curves to the left toward the falls and as it nears the top it narrows. The last 30-40 yards of the climb to the top are on a very narrow trail carved into the side of the granite wall. Luckily there is a pipe handrail to hold on to. Even with that if you have a fear of heights this is unlikely to be enjoyable. Once you get to the top, you will come to a large open granite slab that leads down to a point right above Vernal Falls.

Granite slab above Vernal Falls

This area is a good place for a group picture, but you may have to get in the queue. If you go to the point closest to the falls, you can get a great shot of the falls from the top by holding your camera out past the railing.

View of Vernal Falls from above

Some of our group was way ahead of the rest, had already finished their lunch and decided to head straight back down the Mist Trail. The rest of us headed upriver a ways to find a shady spot for lunch. We decided on a spot next to a part of the river that slides down a granite shoot into a pool. It’s not generally safe to get in the river above the falls, but if I had swim trunks with me I might have tried this slide out.

Slide and pool a ways above Vernal Falls

We ate our lunch on a rocky spot in the shade with a good view of this slide.

We had lunch in the shade above Vernal Falls

We were planning to cut across above Vernal Falls to the John Muir trail after lunch. This adds quite a bit more climb and about another 1.5 miles to the hike, but it is a much gentler descent and there are some terrific views of Vernal Falls from above. I ended up not going this way, but most of our group did. Here’s a shot of Vernal Falls that I took in 2011 from that trail.

View of Vernal Falls from the trail connecting John Muir Trail to the Mist Trail

This time I was feeling just a little more ambitious. We had been planning to hike to Half Dome, so I was feeling like I want more than to go just to the top of Vernal Falls. While we were eating lunch in the shade I decided to ask my son if he felt like hiking further up. He was in, and so was my wife’s cousin Charles. So after lunch the three of us headed the rest of the way up the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Falls.

Since we would be going a couple of miles further than the rest of the group we decided to take off as soon as we were done eating. The Mist Trail and the trail toward the John Muir Trail split on a sloped granite slab. Both of them are a little hard to follow at that point. The Mist Trail heads down slope toward a bridge that crosses the Merced. I got this shot of the river as we crossed the bridge.

Bridge crossing the Merced above Vernal Falls

I took this picture from the other side of the bridge looking back on the trail we had just walked on.

View of the Merced tumbling down toward Vernal Falls from the bridge crossing the river above Vernal Falls

There are a lot fewer people who continue up the Mist Trail from this point, although we definitely weren’t alone. The trail starts out fairly gentle with some shade.

Sean hiking up the Mist Trail just past the bridge above Vernal Falls

Although we wanted to go up the trail quickly, it is fairly steep and the top part of the trail is mostly in the sun, so we took a couple breaks on the way up. On one of these breaks I decided to go off trail for a little bit to get this shot of Nevada Falls head on.

Went off trail to get this blurry shot of Nevada Falls

Unfortunately, the top of the picture turned out to be in the smudged part of the lens. it was the best picture I got of Nevada Falls from this angle so I decided to include it anyway.

We enjoyed the shade as long as we could, and this part of the trail was actually shadier than I remembered.

Last section of full shade on the way to the top of Nevada Falls on the Mist Trail

Although the views of Nevada Falls from the trail were “from the side”, it was still pretty inspiring.

Nevada Falls from the side through the trees from the Mist Trail

I have to admit that Vernal Falls is my favorite though! Toward the top of the trail the shade ends.

Last good view of Nevada Falls near the top of the Mist Trail

The trail at this point is just an organized pile of rocks.

The Mist trail is an organized pile of rocks near the top of the Mist Trail

Then you turn a corner and you are at the top. We took a break at the top to fill our water bladders and enjoy the view. Here are a few shots I took while we hung out.

View of the Merced River from the bridge above Nevada Falls

View of the Merced River from the bridge above Nevada Falls

View toward the top of Nevada Falls from the bridge above the falls

View toward the top of Nevada Falls from the bridge above the falls

Sean taking a break beside the Merced above Nevada Falls

Sean taking a break beside the Merced above Nevada Falls

View of the Merced approaching the bridge above Nevada Falls

View of the Merced approaching the bridge above Nevada Falls

Sean and Eric Rial above Nevada Falls

Sean and me above Nevada Falls

We didn’t hang out long though as we didn’t want the rest of the group to have to wait for us at the bottom. To take the John Muir Trail down to the valley you have to head toward Glacier Point for just a bit. The first part of the trail is a gentle climb…

Hike up John Muir and Panorama Trail from Nevada Falls

then it levels off…

Sean hike along the John Muir and Panorama Trail

before the John Muir trail branches off hugs the side of the wall for a ways. This is one of my favorite parts of this trail. There is a granite block wall on the outside of the trail and some great views of Nevada Falls and Sentinel Dome.

Stone wall along the John Muir trail with a view of Nevada Falls

The trail beyond that point heads downward, but has switchbacks that take you back toward Nevada Falls and more great views as you descend.

Nevada Falls and Sentinal Dome from a switchback on the John Muir Trail

The last good view of Nevada Falls is can be seen if you look along the trail that heads back toward Vernal Falls from the John Muir Trail. If you don’t look back you’ll miss it.

View of Nevada Falls and Sentinal Dome from John Muir trail at the branch with the trail back to Vernal Falls

We caught up the group a little further down the John Muir trail in a shady set of switchbacks.

Shady section of the John Muir trail descending toward Yosemite Valley

Just a little further down the trail we came to the merge with the Mist Trail.

John Muir trail approaching the juntion with the Mist Trail

After a glance at the Yosemite Trail sign at the junction of the two trails…

Yosemite Trail sign at the Junction of the Mist and John Muir trails below Vernal Falls

and a quick thought about future trips and adventures deeper into Yosemite, we turned to head back down the way we had come up from that point.

I enjoyed the entire trip to Yosemite, every minute of it, but this day was my favorite! I love hiking this trail. I guess I’m a sucker for waterfalls, and this hike as two spectacular falls just a couple of miles apart.

Back at camp it was Charles turn to provide dinner. He brought carnitas. A couple of carnitas fajitas plus a cold beer was the perfect end to a perfect day!

Having a couple fajitas for dinner at our campsite in Hodgdon Meadow Yosemite

The next day would be our last full day in Yosemite. We decided to do something completely different… but I’ll put that in another post!

Check out this page listing all of my Yosemite National Park posts: Yosemite National Park Posts